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As the holidays will soon be upon us, it’s now a good time to think about our families. That’s kind of hard to do, however, when you’re thinking about your clients all the time. A lawyer’s work is never done, or at least it takes very long hours at The Firm to get it in good enough shape to file with the court or show to the client. There are many consequences of this. First and foremost is that there is very little time for a personal life. Lawyer life is especially trying for those of us who made the mistake of getting married and perhaps starting a family before we started working at The Firm. Those people, and their spouses, did not realize at the time they decided to get married and have children that the time commitments of being a lawyer do not allow for such pursuits. With so much work to do, an attorney’s personal life becomes a distraction to his or her rise at The Firm. If you think I am exaggerating by referring to one’s family as a distraction, look around The Firm. A situation I’ve seen more than once is that of a lawyer forced to leave the office early, say seven or eight o’clock in the evening, due to a family matter. The lawyer stops by on the way out and says to a colleague something along the lines of: “I’ve got to go, my husband is in the hospital,” or “My wife’s mother is in town and I have to go to dinner with her.” These statements are usually accented with the lawyer’s rolling eyes and strong hint of sarcasm in the lawyer’s voice. Because divorce can be expensive and child abandonment is illegal, lawyers with families have to do the best they can with their predicament. Fortunately for the busy lawyer, there are ways to deal with the big distraction we call family life. There are devices at our disposal that can make up for the fact that the only time we see our spouses is while they are asleep and our kids ask what happened to that strange person who used to come to dinner. 1. The Paycheck. One of the tradeoffs for working so hard at The Firm is that you make more money than the average person — and certainly more than that insurance adjuster your spouse wishes he or she had married. The healthy salaries earned by most lawyers in private practice can make up for an anemic personal life. Here’s how. Imagine being in this situation. Your wife plans a birthday party for you. It’s a surprise party but, knowing you, she tells you about it so you will be more likely to attend. Despite this, there is an emergency at the office and you get home at about the same time the morning newspaper is being delivered. Your wife, furious because she had to spend all evening apologizing for your absence, gives you her deadly “How could you do this to me?” look when you walk though the door. This is where making a lot of money can be very helpful. The smart lawyer delays cashing his paycheck for situations like this. As you walk in, simply hand your paycheck to your spouse. No words need be spoken and all will be forgotten and forgiven — at least until you pull a similar stunt during your next pay period. 2. Utilization of Staff Members. Sure, we all know that subordinates at The Firm can be bossed around and ordered to do things they don’t want to do. Only smart lawyers realize that paralegals, legal secretaries and others ranking low on the law firm totem poll can be used outside The Firm for the lawyer’s personal purposes. Suppose your son’s Little League team is in a championship game. You haven’t been to a game all baseball season (or the second quarter of the fiscal year, as you now think of it). You promised your son and your husband, over and over again, that you would be at the game. Unfortunately, your client doesn’t know or care about this and gives you a short-fused assignment to complete. A quick interoffice phone call can solve this problem. Instead of missing the game completely, order a member of the staff to attend the game in your stead. Instruct this person to say such things as: “Your Mom would be so proud of you — if only she could have been here.” You might also want to have this same person draft a letter for your signature wishing your son well and stating that you “look forward to seeing him soon.” 3. Make Friends and Family Clients. As you progress in your legal career, other lawyers and clients are the only people with whom you will spend any significant amount of time. Kill two birds with one stone by signing up family members as clients and have them put you on a retainer. This way you won’t feel like you are wasting valuable lawyering time when you at home or on a family outing. If, after taking all the above steps, you still feel the pressure, you might also want to invest in some modern technology to help keep in touch. A fax or e-mail to loved ones can bring a great sense of warmth to your family. They can also be saved on a computer file and re-sent periodically without you having to come up with new sentiments each time. The Rodent is a syndicated columnist and author of “Explaining the Inexplicable: The Rodent’s Guide to Lawyers.” His e-mail address is [email protected].

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